Friday, 13 July 2012


Finally, the silver-washed fritillaries and white admirals are flying around the glades of Rookerywood, having emerged a month or so late! Frankly with this shocking weather I'm surprised they bothered! My wife and I get a real buzz seeing these spectacular fast-flying butterflies gliding from one patch of bramble flower to the next, and all the result of 15 years of habitat improvement largely by fencing to eliminate fallow deer and creating glades by the judicious felling of trees.  Now it is perfect for these butterflies, with violets carpeting the open places and honeysuckle climbing up and around the stumps and rotting trees -  both these plants being the food-plants for the larvae. By contrast the remainder of the wood is virtually lifeless due to the ravages caused by plagues of fallow, the bane of my life!

Silver-washed Fritillary

Apart from being one of the few sunny days of the summer, what a memorable day yesterday was. While these butterflies were flying all around us, the first kingfisher of the year was spotted. We heard its spine tingling high pitched call first, then moment later it was fishing from a dead oak branch set into the bed of the pool. Again and again we watched it splashing into the water to return to its perch with stickleback - the action backlit by the early morning sun.  It was one of those rare and sublime moments of life when we both felt detached from the material world and a part of what real life is about, the natural world. 
Kingfisher with stickleback

Now may be a good time to describe a small project that I started during April. In front of the house I decided to experiment with a 30 square metre 'undesignated' dull and comparatively lifeless patch of grass. I began by removing the turf and 3 inches of topsoil, replacing it with two tons of sharp sand, thereby substantially reducing its fertility.  It was then seeded with a mixture of annual and perennial wild flowers and meadow grasses. 
Mini-meadow a month after sowing with wild-flower seed mix

In spite of initial doubts the experiment can be judged a success - as can be seen from these two pictures. Now in mid July this mini-meadow is full of colourful wild flowers buzzing with insects from solitary bees and small beetles to many species of hoverfly - so much more beautiful and biologically vibrant than a bed of 'dead' and gaudy displays of bedding plants so popular with councils and many gardeners countrywide. If similar projects were undertaken on a countrywide basis, the honeybee population would take on a new lease of life, as would insects generally, together with the host of birds and other vertebrates that depend on them. I really can't see much point in garden flowers unless they attract wildlife.

 The management of this, once the flowering period is over, will be crucial for its future success.

Mini-meadow 3 months later in July, with poppies, corn, marigolds
chamomile, cornflower, corn cockle, corn marigold etc

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